MyCarForum and sgCarMart recently went on a trip with Prime Follow Me Japan to East Kyushu, Japan. With advancement in GPS technology, Follow Me Japan (FMJ) wanted to show us how easy it is to drive around in Japan. Gone are the days where you would need to know how to converse and/or read Japanese to get around in a car.
Continuing from the previous blog post here, which got a little too long, we show you where we went with our Toyota Prius for the next four days in the second part of our adventure...
Day 3 - Beppu to Aso
This was Day 3 of the East Kyushu tour and like the days before, some of us who had more discipline checked out earlier to head to the attractions, while some of us took it easy.
We sure took it easy and woke up around 8:00am. On the way out of Beppu and heading in the direction of Aso, we drove towards the "Kokonoe 'Yume' Otsurihashi Suspension Bridge" and halfway through, we spotted this cool old-school amusement park that is still in service.
As we headed back into the mountains, the roads got more snaky.
We occasionally encountered roadworks along our way. You do have to wait more than a minute at the lights for some of them.
Our first destination for the day - The Kokonoe 'Yume' Otsurihashi Suspension Bridge. Opened in 2006, the suspension footbridge is the longest and highest of its type in the world. Thrill seekers will like walking here as the walking space is only 1.5 metres-wide and you can see all the way down its height of 173 metres. To put that into perspective, it is just 20 metres lower than the height of our Marina Bay Sands Towers.
Unfortunately, we couldn't catch a full view of the bridge as it was raining and extremely windy.
The weather wasn't going to improve so we decided to move on to our next attraction. The roads got pretty foggy at times.
And the temperature dropped further as we got higher into the mountains.
We reached Tadewara Wetlands where you could walk on a purpose-built boardwalk that snakes into the areas where farmers grow their crops.
This was the Chojabaru Visitor Centre, which enlightened us on how the farmers burned the grass annually to promote regrowth of plant life.
We chose to look at the wetlands from the warm indoors...
A couple of old tourists actually braved the cold and rain to walk the boardwalks.
We hid in our car and moved on, with the weather still as gloomy. Accidentally, we caught up to another one of our tour members in another car.
It only took a couple of car lengths in the thick fog to nearly engulf the car in front. That was how thick the fog was. However, there was no stress driving through it as everyone took it slow and safe.
Via Whatsapp, our tour guide recommended a lovely cake shop that was on the way to our next attraction.
It was a good call and provided us a nice break from the depressing weather.
The weather turned good after a while and we were back on the roads, heading to Daikanpo lookout.
This was definitely one of the best lookouts of the trip as one could see the spectacular views of the entire caldera of the Aso region.
Check out the views!
Next up was the Aso Nakadake Crater and soon the sun was going to set again.
On the way, we past Kusasenri, a grass-covered plain that has cows and horses on them. Unfortunately, this wasn't the best season to spot them.
Now, this is what we came for, Mount Aso's Nakadake crater. Still very much an active volcano, its caldera ranks among the world's largest.
As we got closer to the crater, more and more signs reminded tourists to refrain from going near the crater if they have respiratory problems.
We hit its peak but sadly couldn't see much of the crater and the fog lingered. As it was very windy and cold (zero-degree celsius) we gave up and went off.
Interestingly, there wasn't much volcano gases hanging around the area.
We aren't good with science, but we deduced the corroded metal railings were caused by the acidic volcanic gases. It looked amazingly apocalyptic.
On the way down Mount Aso, we had to stop and take a photo of this fantastic sunset. Trust us, it was way more beautiful in real life.
We hit Hotel Yumeshizuku in a short while and called it a day after a great dinner.
Day 4 - Aso to Miyazaki
We tried waking up early as we were told that today's drive was going to be the longest in terms of distance travelled. On another note, how nice would it be if we could wake up to such views every morning?
We were stuck here for a while on the way to the breakfast restaurant, too...
It was cold the last night but we didn't know it was cold enough to get ice to form on the car. Amused by our frantic shooting of the ice, the hotel staff promptly helped us clear away the ice by pouring water on the screen to unfreeze it.
First stop of the day - Kunimigaoka. Located 513 metres above sea level, it is known for its scenery whereby you could see the sea of clouds below you.
Nope. Luck wasn't on our side and this was what we saw instead.
Moving on, we headed to today's highlight, the Takachiho Gorge.
Created by the Gokase-gawa River, the gorge features a 17 metre-tall Minainotaki waterfall and is regarded widely as one of the must-dos if you do visit the Kyushu area.
You could also rent a boat to row while enjoying the view if you didn't mind waiting a hour or so...
We spent too much time here and had to grab a quick lunch on the way to the next attraction.. Always thankful for the many convenience stores around with free parking. We spotted many other drivers eating in their cars too...
Took a quick snap at the local harbour while the locals were busy fishing. It is not often we get to drive our cars so close to the waters in Singapore.
We reached Umagase, which was another lookout but we didn't spend much time here as we were running late.
Check out the tyre marks left by the street drifters!
A quick update on how the Toyota Prius did as we headed to our hotel for the night. By now we were more than halfway into our trip and the trip computer showed that we had driven 600km and we still have half a tank left. Impressive economy numbers judging from how many hills and mountains we climbed.
Our stunning hotel for the night at the town of Miyazaki. Behold the Sheraton Grande Resort.
Just a few snaps of its facilities surrounding it.
Day 5 - Miyazaki to Kagoshima
After a quick breakfast, we checked out of the hotel and headed towards the first stop of the day - The Sekinoo Falls.
Again, the photos don't do the waterfall much justice. It looked really grand and beautiful with the slight rainbow at the side.
Lunch beckoned soon and we were told to gather at a small local village near Ojibaru Park. This was a special arrangement by Follow Me Japan where they gathered the help of the local farmers who had all the top grade Miyazaki beef catered for us. Grazing the event with us, which was dubbed Follow Me Kitchen, was the local Mayor and his other officials.
All fresh and ready to be cooked!
While the other side dishes were prepped indoors, the premium beef was cooked in front of us just outside the balcony.
We aren't true foodies but even then we could tell that these taste really smooth and very much different from what we have in Singapore.
Just as we were about to leave, we were notified that there was an after meal performance by the local students as part of a little surprise.
With time for one more place to go before it got dark again, we headed towards Takachiho Farm. Situated in the the grassy hills along the foot of Kirishima Range, this is a good place for families with kids where they can learn more about farm life.
We weren't so interested in the animals so we decided to take some photos of the Prius with the rolling hills as the backdrop.
It was climbing the wet grass on the hills that made us realised we had decent traction thanks to winter tyres that came fitted on the Prius.
Soon the Sakurajima volcano was in sight, which meant we were nearing the hotel (Shiroyama Kanko Hotel).
This was one of our favourite hotels for the trip and it was smack right near the centre of the town
Check out the wonderful view of our hotel!
Day 6 - Miyazaki to Kagoshima
Another view of Sakurajima in the morning.
With not much driving to be done today, we took it slow. While heading towards the Chiran Peace Museum, which was built to commemorate and display all the Kamikaze Pilots related exhibits, we finally understood why Japanese love their Kei-cars so much...
We sure passed by lots of tea plantations along the way...
Unfortunately, the museum prohibited photography so there isn't much we can show here. That said, this is one of the more memorable places of interest for us and it genuinely moved us. We were nearly moved to tears as we read the numerous letters that the pilots leave behind before they head out into war, knowing that they would not be coming back.
We left the museum with a heavy heart and the weather seemed to agree with us. Today's itinerary was filled with quite a few viewpoints and lookouts but we were thwarted by the constant wet weather.
That said, there was still two things that made Day 6 amazing. One was lunch, where we stopped at Tosenkyo, the original place of the circular-type flowing noodle eating style.
After ordering your meal, you will be given a table and your serving of soumen noodles. Dipping your noodles into the fresh spring water makes it nice and springy.
Next was our wonderful hotel called Ibusuki Hakusuikan. Equipped not only with an amazing onsen, it was also equipped with a sand bath facility. Said to be very unusual throughout the world, the heat from the sand that you are buried in will force you to perspire and increase your blood circulation. In fact, sand bathing is believed to be three to four times more effective than soaking in hot springs. In case you readers wonder why we didn't take any photos of how it looked like, photography is prohibited as it was part of the onsen facilities.
Day 7 - Ibusuki to Kagoshima
The last six days flew by pretty fast and soon it was the last day of the trip. But before we headed back, there were a few more interesting places to go to...
First up was the ferry crossing by at the Kagoshima side.
This was the first time for us and we were "wowing" and "woahing" like typical tourists who are trying something for the first time.
Boarding and alighting the ferry with the car was pretty straightforward but we were still glad that our guide was there on standby to help direct us up the ferry. There was no rush to board the ferry as they come and go every 15 minutes.
Checking out the view of the Sakurajima volcano heading..
The heavier vehicles took the lower deck while the normal passenger cars took the deck above.
Soon it was time to disembark
Driving off the ferry..
and into the paying booth.
We hit our first checkpoint at the Yunohira Observatory. Basically a lookout point, this is halfway up the still active Sakurajima volcano. You can see ash is everywhere on the ground and within a short while, our cars had little specks of ash-like dirt - a reminder that it is very much alive.
Next up was another lookout called Arimura Observatory.
If you felt like it, you could also do a little hike around the area.
We found a box of helmets sitting under the seat, another reminder of the dangers of living near a volcano.
Soon it was time to return our rental cars and head home. After a quick lunch, we headed towards the allocated petrol kiosk that was not far from where we were. On the way there, with our fuel tank finally neared empty. After all these days, we managed to pass the 1,000km mark on the trip meter, reminding ourselves how efficient the Toyota Prius was.
At the petrol station, the Prius took in 37.65 litres, translating to an impressive 27.2km/L after traveling a total of 1,025km.
Mind you, we still had 29km worth of petrol to burn when we hit the petrol station. If there were much lesser inclines to climb, we were pretty certain the Prius could do better.
Right next to the petrol station was the Toyota Rent-A-Car outlet in Kagoshima.
This was where we said goodbye to our car before we boarded the plane back home. Our guides were all there ready to help us handover the car and everything was smoothly sorted out. A shuttle bus then took us to the airport before we checked-in for departure back Singapore.
All in all, our trip with Follow Me Japan's tour was brilliantly executed. Besides the excellent service provided by the our tour guides, Yuta-san and Anna, their concept of a guided self-drive tour was true to their words as we did really enjoy the flexibility of a self-drive trip while enjoying the guidance provided whenever we needed.
Adding on to that was how stress-free it was to drive on Japanese roads, thanks to their very good driving manners. You could say it was good example of having your cake and eating it.